Best Practices for File Sharing in Hybrid Work Environments

The move to hybrid work environments came suddenly for some organizations, while for others, it had been building incrementally. Regardless of how it happened, few came to it with a strategic plan for how IT would handle it.

The result has been myriad challenges that span the physical and digital. On the digital front, one of the biggest challenges is related to secure file sharing. As organizations look to address file sharing in hybrid work environments, taking the time to understand the risks and then looking to best practices helps ensure success with optimized productivity and security.

Challenges in a Hybrid Workforce

The abrupt shift to decentralized file-sharing and collaboration environments that came with hybrid work environments has brought functional difficulties and an exponential increase in vulnerabilities. Organizations face several major challenges in hybrid work environments, including these.

Access

  • Reliance on VPN systems creates headaches for users who have to contend with poor performance and connection speeds
  • IT difficulties providing network access to unsanctioned devices  
  • Granular permission management

Performance

  • File size limitations when sending via FTP and email
  • Data sprawl due to excessive file duplication
  • Limited ability to co-edit while maintaining version control

Security

  • Unsanctioned, unmonitored sharing methods
  • Limited ability to expire or revoke file access
  • No visibility into file and folder access and user permissions

File sharing controls

  • Sharing with links instead of attachments
  • Safeguards, including view-only, file-level passwords, and link expiration
  • Support for preview-only file  
  • Warning on attempts to share files containing sensitive data
  • Single trash bin with simple file restore
  • Control External Users
  • Managed External Users
  • External accounts to collaborate with clients and partners
  • Self-service provisioning
  • Detailed audit reporting on user activity

General Best Practices for File Sharing in Hybrid Work Environments

Yes, there are challenges for file sharing in hybrid work environments, but the following best practices provide guidance on how to resolve issues to fully realize value. Several key best practices for file sharing in hybrid work environments include the following.

Be collaborative with online file sharing.

Support effective collaboration with functionality, such as notifications when files are updated, approval acquisition and tracking, and comments. File Locking also supports collaboration by allowing files to be locked for editing to prevent two users from making changes at the same time. 

Develop consistent naming conventions.

Keep files in order by establishing and enforcing file naming conventions to ensure consistency. Several best practices for file naming conventions are:

  • Create meaningful names, such as the type of content in the file (e.g., brochure) and a brief description (e.g., company overview)
  • Document the file naming conventions
  • Do not include information that is already included in the digital record (e.g., dates, versions)
  • Limit the length of file names 
  • Use terms that are easily recognized within the organization (e.g., using contract vs. agreement)

Make it easy to find files.

Provide advanced search capabilities to help teams quickly find information. This facilitates and expedites file retrieval helping to make teams more productive. To support advanced search, processes and protocols should be in place for how tags are used for files.

Plan the structure for shared files

Like file naming, folder names should also be intuitive and use a consistent format. A few best practices for naming share folders are: 

  • Create a top-level folder for documents with common compliance or retention rules to streamline archiving and destruction
  • Document the file-structure policy 
  • Enforce file naming policies  
  • Keep external files separate from those meant for internal use 
  • Limit folders to three to five levels deep 

Version control

Use version control to track files throughout their lifecycle and maintain the latest iteration. Version control also provides an audit trail of changes made to files to support audits and allow users to revert to a previous version.

Security Best Practices for File Sharing in Hybrid Work Environments

Getting secure file sharing right is critical to the success of hybrid work environments. Following best practices, organizations can reap the benefits of hybrid work environments while protecting valuable data. Among the most important steps to do this are as follows.

Educate users about cybersecurity risks

Ensure that users understand the risks of file sharing and how to mitigate vulnerabilities. In most cases, simple awareness can help users enhance overall security and ensure safe file sharing.  

Establish granular permissions

Add granular permissions to users and files to control exactly who has access to what information based on need. This protects sensitive files from unauthorized access and limits exposure in the event of a cyberattack.

Maintain an audit trail

For security and compliance, all interactions with files should be monitored and recorded. Having a validated, reliable, and easy-to-follow audit trail helps identify suspicious or malicious activity and meet compliance requirements.   

Require strong passwords 

All users should be required to use strong passwords to access files. Guidelines can be set, such as passwords should be at least 16 characters long and contain a combination of numbers, symbols, upper case letters, lower case letters, and a space. Or, passwords can be randomly generated. And, passwords should be changed on a regular basis (e.g., once a month, once a quarter).

Use multi-factor authentication

Multi-factor authentication, or MFA, supports secure file sharing by providing protection against unauthorized access even if a user’s password has been compromised. Although it requires users to go through a second step when they access files, it is far less cumbersome than other advanced security approaches.

Time to Update File Sharing to Meet the Requirements Hybrid Work Environments

Like it or not, hybrid work environments are not going away as the pandemic tapers. The associated challenge of secure file sharing between remote users is something that most organizations must address, and quickly. However, it does not have to be difficult. Secure file sharing in a hybrid work environment, although seemingly daunting, can be done relatively easily with the right tools. 

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Author
David Buster

Senior Manager, Security and Governance; Product Marketing

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